Monday, December 22, 2008

In Defense of Earmarks

The Post has an editorial this morning urging PEBO not to allow his upcoming stimulus bomb to be larded with earmarks--that is, personal pet projects of the 535 members of our two national legislative bodies. Well, I rise in favor of the besieged earmark, and I do so proudly for two reasons.

The first is that it is an excellent way to distribute taxpayer money back into the economy. Yes, I know, the Museum of the Onion and funding for the study of cow flatulence make for great headlines, but you know what? At the end of those earmarks are real American citizens with jobs, jobs funded ultimately from that earmark (and very often matching state or local funds). At the heart of the earmark system is the knowledge that others are doing it and you might as well get yours (for your district) while the getting is good. If you don't participate, you don't get projects in your district...good or bad. Which brings me to my second point....

Pork-busters don't seem to have come up with a better way to distribute federal money back to localities. Were each individual project to be put up for up or down votes, the mechanisms of federal legislating would grind to a halt; there would be no time to work on other important NATIONAL legislation.

When someone comes forward with a better way to distribute federal money, well then I'll back it. Yes--I know--tax refunds are an excellent way to distribute that money, and I will always back tax refunds over earmarks. I just don't see us being in that position now or in the future.


Anonymous said...

Here are some ideas...

1. Just let us keep more of our money.

2. Balance the budget or at least get close (deficit during recession - surpulus during expansion).

3. Call pork what it is: spending. The renaming of this activity (earmark, "investment", etc) is irritating. If the federal government wants to spend more, fine but don't spin it into something it isn't.

4. Each earmark should mean taking away from something else. It does not but it should. No reason to make hard decisions on the hill as long as you're briging home the bacon.

5. "Good way to distribute money?" You have to be kidding. If the process is broken to the point where it must be bypassed to get dollars where most needed, then fix the process. Congress won't do that because they're quite comfortable using earmarks to fleece us and pay off their buddies back home.

I know we've all benefited from various earmarks (I know an earmark that included a new amphibious assault ship) but what about a system that does not serve the process for which it was created?

Mudge said...

Anon - I couldn't get to the comments fast beat me to it. Well said. One additional point. The cost of OUR money being processed through Washington to be given so generously back to US is staggering. If Congress wants to give us back 1 of our dollars, if they are to follow your point 1 above, and they should, then that will also save about 12 cents for the cost avoidance of all the people in Washington who would have charged for laying their fingers on OUR money to send it back to US.

The Conservative Wahoo said...

Sorry Mudge and Anon, you're just not living in the modern world. While some of what you offer is spot on (balancing budgets), I think you yearn for a day long gone past. It would be lovely to pay in only what we need to "provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and establish justice and ensure domestic tranquility", but this pesky representative democracy of ours seems to revise exactly what those things mean on a recurring basis. As we've grown in power and influence in the world, our expenditures have grown too--as have our wants and desires about what it is that the federal government will do. Do I also yearn for the utopia that you seek? Absolutely. But I don't see it coming. And I don't see you dealing realistically with the facts and the system that we have, nor do I hear you putting any ideas forward other than "give us our money back" about how our legislature would go about the systematic distribution of public moneys back into the "general welfare". Thoughts?

The Conservative Wahoo said...

C'mon Mudge, I know you're in there. Stop hiding.

Mudge said...

Well, CW, if that is the attitude of all moderately-high tax bracket taxpayers, then I would agree--we will never change this paradigm. Paying taxes is our civil duty. Accepting poor management of those taxes and relinquishing interest in them is not. The fact of the matter is that our soon-to-grow taxes are being squandered in ways that few seem to care about. I fully expect those who receive but do not give NOT to care that they are so squandered just so long as they get their "cut" of the monies they had no role in giving. But I am disappointed when I hear those who do pay taxes give up on them as of April 15th. Would those taxpayers equally give a personal loan investment--especially one of the same monetary amount--without exhibiting at least a passing interest into where those monies go and to what degree they are being used for other purposes? A recourse for investors and loaners is civil court. A recourse for taxpayers is periodic elections. When we taxpayers start uniting behind the concept that the money our elected legislators dole out to an enormously inefficient and, to a lesser but not insignificant, degree, ineffective government infrastructure is in fact our money, then the sooner we taxpayers will be able to keep more of our earnings so we can vector them to the kinds of places where they address the issues we care about the most. Efficient charities, family and close friends, communities, etc. My mother used to give, in my opinion, too much of her personal earnings to charities about which she cared. She did at least research the charities for how much overhead they maintained so most of her monetary donations would get to addressing the cause about which she cared. Now that the Right High Honorable Governor of Maryland has raised her already recodr-high taxes she has stopped giving entirely. I doubt seriously that Lord O'Malley has much interest in making sure that Subject Peggy's money is being efficiently or even effectively used to address even his own interests. And, having once lived in Maryland, I assure you that even if he was so inclined (he is not), he would be hard-pressed to find such a government office in his state wherein he could even think about efficient or effective use of those funds. It's like going to the local All You Can Eat Barbecue in hopes of gaining insights into moderation. People motivated by such behaviors don't dominate the populations of such activities. So you asked for some recommendations. Here are some in no particular order: (1) get rid of any defeatist notion that we cannot change the direction elected officials have taken with our tax dollars; (2) act on anon's #1, #2, #3, #4; (3) find particularly wasteful, inneficient infrastructure-burdened activities supported by tax dollars and come up with a commercial alternative that will out perform them...then make your money out of the money you save the taxpayers (4) elect people who respect, even revere, what it took for you to earn the money they get to allocate to broader national interests and diselect those who do not (5) never again let a pronouncement, be it in a small social setting, a local newspaper or a major national news outlet, that government tightening its fiscal belt is a bad thing go without challenge...even if it is your ox being gored by the tightening (that goes especially for those of us in DoD--there is an obscene amount of money in DoD and we are not very good about demanding the most for each dollar--why else would major prime developers have record profits in cost-plus contracts despite their programs being almost universally behind schedule (look at the replans if they are claiming on schedule) and above cost (look at the associated program elements under which PMs can hide money being spent on the main program)? (6) What are today called "earmarks" may often serve to circumvent the bad decisions the government infrastructure often make, so the act of vectoring money to a better approach is not necessarily a bad thing. That said, they should be done in plain view of the taxpayers who footed the money in the first place. Quit hiding the source and intent of these projects and you will clean up a lot of the wanton waste these earmarks so often buy. (7) Finally, for now at least, disband the Federal Government workers' union (AFGE) and establish legislation that protects government leadership in firing those deemed incompetent, unwilling and/or criminally negligent in carrying out the government services for which they are quite handsomely paid. No single act could so quickly transform government and reduce cost. We are so eager to watch the UAW undergo such a neutering, why do we continue to accept from the very people who collect then squander our taxes in the first place?

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